Building Grit at Camp

Posted: January 15, 2013

Each month, Peg will host a guest blogger here on A Word from Peg. This month's guest is Audrey Monke, owner and director of Gold Arrow Camp.

"Camp has taught me to be brave and reach my goals. If it wasn't for camp, I wouldn't be nearly as courageous as I am now."
— Remi, age 11

At camp we have the phenomenal opportunity to teach campers grit, a character trait that will benefit them far beyond our lakes and forests. Through teaching our campers to set goals and have a growth mindset, we can make a positive, life-changing impact.

The start of a new year begs for a resolution. Why not set a goal to incorporate more grit development into your camp curriculum this summer?

Grit Defined

Grit has become the new buzzword in education and parenting thanks to Paul Tough's best-selling book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character. (Be sure to catch Tough at this year’s ACA national conference!)

Disciplined, hard working, and persistent are all adjectives that describe a person with “grit.” But how do we teach grit to a non-gritty generation who have often been protected from failure and shored up by well-meaning parents? Some of our campers and staff arrive at camp accustomed to giving up when something gets hard.

I think two keys are teaching campers to set and work toward goals and teaching them to adopt a growth mindset.

Setting Goals

Train your staff to lead a goal discussion at the opening campfire or meeting with their group. Have them ask campers:

  • Is there an activity that’s new to you or that you’re scared of?
  • Is there an activity you want to improve at?

Practice during staff training by having your staff ask themselves those questions and share with each other their own goals for the summer. Encourage them to think of something that is outside of their comfort zone and at least a little bit challenging, just like what they will have their campers do.

In order to reach their goals, campers and staff will need encouragement and to think of themselves differently.

Teaching a Growth Mindset

“I’m bad at archery.”

When our campers and staff label themselves as “bad” or “good” at activities, they’re demonstrating a fixed mindset, or the belief that talent is innate. In her book Mindset, Carol Dweck outlines the importance of using praise that helps kids adopt a growth mindset or “the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts."

Have your staff praise campers by saying things like, “Wow, you really worked hard at that. I noticed that you tried six times before you were able to make it up that climb. I’m really impressed with your persistence.” Teach staff to praise EFFORT, so that the campers are willing to keep putting in effort even when something gets difficult.

If our campers learn to set goals and have a growth mindset while they’re with us at camp this summer, they will also gain a valuable character trait — grit!

Audrey Monke, with her husband Steve, has owned and directed Gold Arrow Camp (Lakeshore, California) for the past twenty-four years. They have five children (ages nine to nineteen) who keep their life camp-like year round. Audrey has been a member of ACA since 1989 and was President of WAIC (Western Association of Independent Camps) from 2007–2010. She writes about camp and parenting at sunshine-parenting.com.

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